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How Social Media Might Hurt Your Mental Health

Do you start your day by checking your social media accounts? And end your day the same way?

Maybe you pop back in throughout the day for quick check-ins — but before you realize it, you’ve scrolled through recent posts for nearly an hour.

This isn’t all that uncommon. After all, social media use is pretty widespread.

In the United States alone, 72 percent of people reported using some type of social media in 2021, according to Pew Research Center.

But contrary to what many people may suggest, social media isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Social media often gets a bad reputation for being a contributor to negative outcomes,” says Britt Frank, a licensed psychotherapist and author of the book “The Science of Stuck.”

What are the downsides?

You might already know social media can potentially hamper mental health. But you might have less awareness of exactly how.

Social media could negatively affect mental well-being by:

Making you feel bad about yourself
Social media offers plenty of opportunities to compare yourself to others. Scrolling might leave you envious of your social circle’s lives, including their:

  • fancy vacations
  • clean, cozy homes
  • tight-knit, smiling, well-dressed families
  • seemingly flawless bodies

Messing with your sleep
Research from 2019 suggests people who use social media, particularly at night, tend to:

  • go to bed later
  • sleep less
  • sleep worse

Contributing to anxiety and depression
Various research studies suggest a connection between social media and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

A 2016 study by trusted Source using survey data from 1,787 U.S. adults between the ages of 19 and 32 found a link between social media use and increased depression.

A 2017 study used data from the same survey to explore the impact of using multiple social media platforms. The results of this study suggest people using between 7 to 11 social media platforms are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than people using between 0 and 2 platforms.

The study authors point out, though, that the link could go both ways. Some people, for instance, may use social media to cope with existing feelings of anxiety or depression.

Crowding out fulfilling activities
“Excessive social media use takes time away from doing other things that may benefit your mental health,” points out Goodman.

If you use social media apps too often, she says, you might be spending less time doing things like:

  • connecting with others in person
  • spending time in nature
  • taking care of yourself in other meaningful ways

What about the benefits?

All that said, social media can have plenty of upsides, too.

Social media could help promote improved well-being by:
Increasing access to resources
Whether you’re searching for support groups, informative articles, or valuable tools and tips, social media can provide access to multiple resources — though, of course, you’ll always want to consider the source for potential inaccuracy or bias.

Social media can also break down some of the barriers people face when trying to access resources.

If you find it challenging to get out and about for whatever reason, social media could make it easier to do things like:

  • join a support group
  • find recommendations for healthcare professionals
  • participate in virtual events
  • get information about events in your area
  • learn more about free or low-cost resources, events, and opportunities for recreation

Highlighting causes of interest
“Social media can also help raise awareness for different causes,” says Goodman.
It can also help you:

  • learn more about volunteer opportunities
  • support organizations that have a positive impact on the world
  • make meaningful connections with people who have similar values and prioritize the same issues

Connecting you with like-minded people
Before social media, your options for socializing were geographically limited, for the most part. You might have had some challenges finding people to connect with, especially if you lived in a small town.

Today, social media allows you to quickly and easily ‘travel’ beyond your city, state, and even your continent to expand your inner circle.

Communities exist for practically everything you can think of: homeschooling, virtual book clubs, Minecraft, and crafting, just to name a very small handful.

No matter how obscure your hobbies are, you can likely find a community of people who also loves what you love.

Helping you share and sharpen your skills
Self-expression play an important role in mental health, and social media provides an outlet for this expression since it creates the opportunity to:

  • share your interests and pastimes with others
  • sharpen your skills by learning from others with the same interests
  • broaden your creative, cognitive horizons by learning about new hobbies and ways to try them

Improving your relationship with social media

Developing a healthy relationship with social media starts with recognizing it as a tool, says Goodman.

Like most things, social media can be used for good, or it can become problematic when used incorrectly or in excess, she says.

So, how can you use social media in a way that actually benefits your mental health instead of disrupting it? These tips offer a place to start.

  • Get curious about your behavior
  • Skip social media in the morning and night
  • Curate your content
  • Set yourself up for success
  • Be gentle with yourself
  • Seek out other kinds of fun

When to get professional support
Your relationship with social media may not always be simple, or easy to understand.

If you find yourself getting caught up in the nuances, a therapist may be able to offer more guidance.

How do you know it’s time to reach out?

  • spending more time focused on social media than caring for your needs
  • experiencing conflict and other challenges in your relationships
  • frequently comparing yourself to others and berating yourself for not measuring up
  • unable to step away from social media despite unwanted consequences

A therapist can offer support with:

  • identifying patterns of problematic social media use
  • exploring underlying reasons for excessive use
  • setting limits
  • addressing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns
  • strengthening your relationship with yourself

The bottom line

The effect social media has on your mental health often comes down to how you use it, and why.

Case in point: Social media can lead you to feel more isolated and alone. But it can also help you connect with people going through similar life challenges or exploring the same interests.

Ultimately, the key to building a better relationship with social media lies in exploring how your use affects you. Small steps and more thoughtful use can lead to an improved relationship with social media and yourself.

Keep in mind, too, that social media apps tend to be tend to be designed by trusted Sources to keep you engaged and actively using them. So, you might not always find it easy to cut back on your own. If that’s the case for you, a therapist can offer more guidance and support by setting boundaries for more mindful social media use.

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